Viengsay Valdés: “I still have much to dance”

The director of the Cuban National Ballet bets on dancers who can take on a wide range of styles and languages. She granted us an interview.

In one of the halls of the National Ballet of Cuba, prima ballerina Viengsay Valdés rehearses with Dany Hernández one of the most challenging pieces within the historical repertoire of the company: Tema y variaciones. It is George Balanchine’s choreography, which was created for Alicia Alonso in 1947. It is being said that the celebrated choreographer made it difficult for her as sessions were basically a battlefield. Challenge after challenge, the piece was staged.

Viengsay Valdés, everyone knows, never takes rehearsals lightly. “Not to mention this one, which was meant for Alicia. It is challenging to trying to be on her shoes. I got to do it right.”

The truth is that Viengsay Valdés is no longer one of the leading stars in the cast, but she is now the general director. Hence, she has no much time to spare. Therefore, she granted us this interview on a short break.

—After your appointment, the support of the government, cultural institutions, artists, and public in general has been awesome. Recently, you were congratulated by Raúl Castro himself…

—He saw me dancing several times and the fact he congratulated me, on the basis of mutual respect and admiration — knowing it was me the chosen one — has been certainly a pleasant surprise and, above all, a commitment.

—You have stated that such commitment is based on continuity, but also on renewal as ballet is not an art museum.

—Continuity, of course, implies the respect for a historical legacy. But it is not alienated from renewal, evolution, the upgrade of the Cuban ballet.

“I believe there is no need to lose our essence, roots, in order to contribute with our company, its repertoire, the daily work in the halls as well as the final result on stage. Much remains to be done.

“Since my appointment as deputy artistic director, I was pretty clear. And I am very clear now that I am in charge. It is my way to brewing a change from the inside, which is paramount from my personal view.

“Dancers need versatility. It is essential to develop not only the great classic pieces in the repertoire, which is actually what we have been doing so far. We also need dancers with certain degree of skills, a wide range of styles, that may lead them to perform with any choreographer, any language.

“This is vital. We cannot be labeled as a company that only focused on dance. We need to be a comprehensive dance company by boasting an international signature.

“A signature, of course, to make the company stand out. This is not about encouraging individualism. But you need to see diversity in styles and expressions.

“That is my goal with dancers. That is the way to finish off the artistic and technical development of them all.”

—There is a tradition of dancers who have led companies while still dancing. Alicia herself did it for a while. To what extent is it a challenge for you?

—I can confirm it is tough. Nobody can imagine my daily routine. I devote my morning to the physical side, my training, improve my technique…classes, rehearsals. In short, my constant improvement as a dancer.

“But it is totally the opposite in the afternoon: I have to address the administrative part. A lot of things; for instance, the schedule — especially now that we are organizing the International Ballet Festival, dedicated to Alicia in her centennial anniversary.

“There are many things at once. A lot of details come up along the way. My days are now longer. I sometimes start at 8:00 and I am still here at 19:00. Twelve hours working hard. It is exhausting, as a matter of fact. Luckily, I may de-stress the following day while dancing. Dancing is always cathartic.”

—In other words, you have no plans to stop dancing…

—I think I am experiencing one of the best times of my life, my career, and I will take the most advantage out of it as dancers’ career is short.

“If I can keep dancing, I will do it for my fans, my public. I still have much to dance.”

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Díaz/CubaSí Translation Staff

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Cuban Company Acosta Danza Announces UK Tour

United Kingdom stages will soon host the presentations of the Cuban company Acosta Danza, which will perform a selection of the best known pieces from its repertoire, informs today a statement from the institution.

Under the general direction of Carlos Acosta, between October 28 and November 23, the cast of dancers from the Caribbean nation will arrive in the cities of Norwich, Edinburgh, Birmingham and London, where they will perform four performances in the Sadler's Wells theater.

According to the official note, the programme includes the play Satori, a choreography by Raúl Reinoso based on concepts of Zen Buddhism, with music by Pepe Gavilondo; as well as the duet Fauno, by the Belgian Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, inspired in the legendary La siesta de un fauno, by the Ukrainian Vatslav Nijinsky.

The piece entitled Paysage, soudain, la nuit, by Swedish artist Pontus Lidberg, inspired by the footsteps of Cuban rumba, which features scores by Leo Brouwer and Stefan Levin, while an artistic installation by Elizabet Cerviño serves as a stage design, stands out in the selection.

Each presentation will close with the staging of Rooster, by choreographer Christopher Bruce, with music by the British band The Rolling Stones.

The announcement also states that at the end of the British tour, the company will travel for the first time to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, where it will offer two performances.

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Alicia Alonso, Cuba's ballet legend, dies at age 98

(Reuters) - Legendary Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso, who achieved global acclaim in the 1940s and went on to run the internationally renowned National Ballet of Cuba for decades, died on Thursday at age 98, state-run media said.

"Alicia Alonso has gone and left an enormous void, but also an unbeatable legacy," President Miguel Diaz-Canel said in a post on Twitter. "She positioned Cuba at the altar of the best of dance worldwide. Thank you Alicia for your immortal work."

One of the greatest 20th century ballerinas, Alonso used her star power to make a sometimes elitist art form popular on her Caribbean island, forging the world's largest ballet school with a unique bravura style.

Alonso immediately identified herself with the 1959 revolution and, with her dance partner of many years, Russian Igor Youskevich who died in 1994, performed for the bearded guerrillas of Fidel Castro's rebel army after they took power in Havana. She remained closely associated with the Communist government until the end.

    So revered is Alonso in Cuba - where a perfume carries her name and the huge Coppelia ice cream parlor is named after one of her signature roles - that she carried the rare title of prima ballerina assoluta, reserved for only the most exceptional of dancers.

"As the daughter of a small Caribbean island, Alonso confronted all the barriers, those who said ballet was an art of developed countries, that the Latino physique and temperament could not adjust to the needs of classical dance," Cuban-born Carlos Acosta, former principal guest artist of the Royal Ballet, said in a statement on Thursday.

"Alicia Alonso destroyed all these prejudices when she made her entrance on the stage."

'HIGHEST LEVELS OF EXCELLENCE'

    Alonso's breakout role was "Giselle" in New York on Nov. 2, 1943, when she replaced British dancer Alicia Markova, who fell ill, in the newly formed company that would become the American Ballet Theatre.

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First Cuban National Ballet dancers arrive in Mexico

The first dancers of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba (BNC) Viengsay Valdes, Anette Delgado and Dani Hernandez arrived today in Mexico to lead a season of the classic Giselle, in the version of director Alicia Alonso.

During a press conference held at the National Auditorium in the capital, the first three figures recognized the significance of the work of Alonso, who in 2020 will be celebrating the centennial of her birth.

In January of this year, Valdes was appointed deputy artistic director of the BNC, with the mission of supporting, continuing and enriching the legacy of the great artist who, in 1948, founded the company together with Alberto and Fernando Alonso, the current name of the National Cuban Ballet School.

After 12 years without performing in Mexico, the BNC will take to the stage of the Auditorio Nacional next Saturday, while on Monday it will perform in Guadalajara, in the Conjunto Santander de las Artes Escenicas, and will finally dance on October 3 in the Aguascalientes theater, in the city of the same name in the center-north of the country.

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Cuban National Ballet is Back after Successful Performances in Spain

Havana, July 15 (Prensa Latina) The Cuban National Ballet (BNC) has returned to Havana on Monday after two months of successful performances in Spain, where it drew the attention of the public and specialized critics.

'Great' was the adjective used to highlight the performance in theatres of Madrid, a coliseum that had to place a poster on its door of sold out seats.

The company received a lot of praise from the local critics, which highlighted its excellence and praised Viengsay Valdes, the Queen (of the swans) of the troupe, as Deputy Director of the BNC.

In an interview in Spain, Valdes confessed her wish to preserve the historical legacy of the dance group, while at the same time working to bring new choreographers and works to more than the 700 of the repertoire.

We don't want to be typecast in the classic. The Cuban Ballet still has a long way to go, she added.

The journey began last May 24 in Oviedo and also extended to the Basque Country, Andalusia, Madrid and Barcelona, receiving applause from spectators with the works Cinderella and Swan Lake.

The cast included Anette Delgado, Dani Hernandez, Grettel Morejon, Raul Abreu, Chanell Cabrera, Claudia Garcia, Ginett Moncho, Yankiel Vazquez, Adrian Sanchez, Ernesto Diaz, Felix Rodriguez, Ely Regina and Chavela Riera.

The company is preparing for its next presentations, scheduled for September at the Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso and then in several Mexican cities with the classic Giselle.

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US Aggressions against Cuba Strengthen International Support

The growing US aggressions against Cuba only cause an increase in international support for the Caribbean nation, Dirk Banderhorst, director of a ballet project in South Africa with Cuban methodology, said.

Commenting on the recent measures adopted by the Donald Trump administration that exacerbate the economic, commercial and financial blockade that Washington has imposed on Cuba for almost 60 years, the artist noted that these measures affect the Cuban people mainly.

These measures against Cuba strengthen the world's support and solidarity in favor of the Caribbean nation, he noted.

In that regard, he stated that artists from South Africa and other countries support the path chosen by Cuba and condemn the US-imposed blockade.

Banderhorst highlighted the support he has received from Cuba to develop the so-called South African International Ballet Competition, a program that has just turned 10 years and has had the participation of Cuban ballet teachers since 2015.

The project, which resulted during Banderhorst's visit to Cuba in 2008, aims to teach dance to children from poor municipalities in South Africa.

 

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Cuban National Ballet Schedules Projects with US Companies

New York, May 14 (Prensa Latina) The Cuban National Ballet (BNC) is scheduling on Tuesday new projects and collaborations with prestigious U.S. companies such as American Ballet Theater (ABT) and New York City Ballet (NYCB).

BNC artistic deputy director Viengsay Valdes told Prensa Latina that along with those American ballet groups, a grand gala is being prepared to pay homage to Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso in 2020 in Havana.

During her recent visit to New York City, Valdes met with ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie, and the executive director of that company, Kara Medoff Barnet.

The Cuban prima ballerina attended an ABT performance where a version of a 19th-century piece was presented.

Last weekend, Valdes attended many NYCB performances at David Koch Theater, of Lincoln Center, and went to a performance of the Mark Morris Dance Group, at Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Upon her return to Cuba on Tuesday, Valdes will begin to prepare a season of the BNC with 'new proposals and challenges for our dancers.'

Valdes, recognized as one of the leading figures of the Cuban ballet nowadays, has been guest artist of the Washington Ballet, of United States; the Ballet Concerto de Puerto Rico; the Joburg Ballet of South Africa; Bolshoi Ballet and  Mariinski Ballet, of Russia, among other companies.

Valdes have been chosen among the 100 best dancers in the world in the 2010-2011 season by the prestigious magazine Dance Europe, and has taken her art to stages of the five continents.

Since January 22, she became the artistic deputy director of the company, directed by legendary Alicia Alonso.

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Carlos Acosta to Become Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet

The Royal Ballet of Birmingham (United Kingdom) has elected Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta as its new director, according to a press release from Acosta Dance, a company founded by the artist.

Acosta, who will assume the appointment from January 2020, said about his new responsibility that 'it is a great honor and privilege to have been appointed to lead this company.

I am a great admirer of its heritage and of what David Bintley (current director) has done to establish it as one of the world's leading classical ballet companies, he added.

My ambition is to build on its classical traditions, expand its repertoire and reach out to new and more diverse audiences, to define what it is to be a world-leading classical ballet company in the 21st century' , he said.

The choreographer also stressed that in parallel to this opportunity, he will continue his work with Acosta Dance and the Carlos Acosta International Dance Foundation, as this appointment will allow him to improve and develop the opportunities he can offer to both initiatives.

For this selection, a group of international experts chose the director in an open competition, after the British Bintley announced his retirement next July, at season's end.

David Normington, the company´s chair highlighted the Birminghan Royal Ballet´s great moment and described Acosta as the 'greatest best male dancer of his generation'.

I know he will bring us his legendary art, his energy and his charisma and allow us to connect with new audience, especially in Birmingham,' he said.

Acosta, 45, was trained at the Cuban National School of Ballet, where he graduated with honors in 1991 and, three years later, became top dancer for the Cuban National Ballet.

According to specialized critics, he has become one of the greatest dancers in the world, thanks to his physical qualities and talent which have led him to join the list of important companies in the world, such as Italy, the United States and the United Kingdom.

He made his debut as an actor last year in Yuli, by Spain's Iciar Bollain, a film where he plays himself and which has earned him the nomination for Best Newcomer at the 2019 Goya Awards.

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